It’s an incredible photo of a contentious and uncomfortable meeting. (You can find plenty about it on Twitter, among other places.)
What I haven’t seen is anything written about Chancellor Angela Merkel’s jacket.
Typically for a high-stakes meeting, a female politician might wear either a classic power color—red comes to mind—or black. Theresa May wore black and white—black on bottom and a white jacket. (I think this is the jacket.) Polished, professional, sleek. Merkel often wears bright colors—red, orange, purple, in more saturated hues.
In fact, much has been written about Merkel’s rainbow of suits and suit jackets. (Here’s a Pantone-coded chart that shows Merkel’s colors.)
In some ways, what she’s wearing the photo that went viral is typical of a power jacket, i.e., buttoned up and no-nonsense. So what struck me immediately about this picture was the color of Merkel’s jacket—a slightly rumply, tweedy jacket in light blue, possibly raw silk or a silk-linen blend—and its departure from the bright colors she usually favors.
Merkel’s jacket in light blue
In general, blue is associated with stability and evokes a feeling of confidence. This is why it’s the color of choice for corporate America. We don’t know how intentional Merkel’s clothing choices are, but we can talk about the outcome. Here Merkel is clearly communicating something with her suit.
In the psychology of color, light blue also signals dependability, but it also conveys calm and tranquility. According to one authority, “Blue is considered beneficial to the mind and body. It slows human metabolism and produces a calming effect.”
It’s interesting, then, that Merkel is wearing a color that’s in direct opposition to the actual interactions that played out at the G7. It seems calculated to lay a serene and peaceful foundation for what would surely be a difficult day.
There’s also the matter of the jacket’s texture. In general, the more smooth (and dark) a fabric, the more polished and formal. This jacket has plenty of texture to it, from what I can see, and this makes her less formal and more approachable In general, smoother (and darker) fabrics read as more polished and formal. The fact that it’s in the light color and a little rumbled as well just adds to this overall effect—Merkel presenting herself as not only promoting peacefulness but also as leveraging a sense of approachabilty and informality.
Yet Merkel’s body language is not quite the same as her unspoken message of peacefulness and conciliation. In the photo, she’s leaning over a table or desk, and over Trump, while she says something to him.
In effect, Merkel is having it both ways—conveying approachability, a measure of informality, and calm, seeming less of a classic power suit, while sending a different message with her body language. This contradiction can be effective, or it can be confusing, as when someone wears a classic power suit and situates herself in lower-status positions or acts in a way that is too informal.
In the photo, Merkel is working on a joint statement from the G7 and trying to make a deal, but she isn’t going to let Trump get away with anything that doesn’t serve her purposes. (Trump tore up the deal afterward on the runway.) In essence, the jacket constitutes her sleight of hand: “Aha, you think I’m here in a spirit of peace, because that’s what I want you to think. In reality, I have my goals, and I intend to get my way, and it’s going to be on my terms.”
Brilliant! Would that the rest of us could construct our sartorial message as deftly and expertly.